When your child’s second exceptionality is emotional: Looking beyond psychiatric diagnosis

when your child s second exceptionality is emotional looking beyond psychiatric diagnosis

Written by Barbara Probst, this article covers the second exceptionality typically not thought of when discussing twice-exceptionality - one that is emotional, social or behavioral related.

When people think of a twice-exceptional child, they usually think of someone who’s gifted and learning-disabled. The “second exceptionality” is typically an educational issue like dyslexia, or sometimes a physiological issue like sensory integration dysfunction. In other cases, however, a child’s second condition is said to be emotional, social, or behavioral. These are the children described as hard-to-manage, badly behaved, or just plain odd – despite, or perhaps because of, their high intelligence. They may even receive psychiatric diagnoses like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), Asperger Syndrome, or Bipolar Disorder.

But do these difficulties merit ps1ychiatric diagnoses? Are they disorders, or are they misunderstood and mismanaged aspects of giftedness? Perhaps your child does have a serious emotional disorder; if that’s so, then minimizing the problem may prevent him from receiving much-needed help. On the other hand, perhaps your child’s differentness has been pathologized – that is, turned into a disease; in that case, he may suffer unnecessary damage in the effort to fix what isn’t really broken. As a caring and concerned parent, how can you tell which it is? How can you distinguish difference from disorder, especially in gifted youngsters?

To explore that question, we’ll examine aspects of giftedness such as Dabrowski’s five overexcitabilities; explore how traits of temperament, as they manifest in gifted children, can lead to social and emotional difficulties; deconstruct some common diagnoses to see how difference is turned into disorder; and suggest strategies to reduce emotional overload and bring problems to a sub-threshold or manageable level.